Despite the near ubiquity of wireless devices, third-party products that help mobile users communicate with System i applications remain limited in number.
Your experience may vary, but it seems that the proliferation of mobile telephones is becoming so commonplace that a growing number of people are dropping residential landlines for personal use.
On the business side of life, while enterprises obviously can't be relinquishing their telephone directory listings with similar abandon, mobile telephones, personal digital assistants, and other wireless devices are becoming indispensable for employees who work outside the office. Whether it be for tracking locations and schedules of service personnel, letting mobile salespeople check the home server for product availability or changes in pricing, helping executives and others organize their time, or keeping support people alert to computer problems 24/7, wireless handheld personal devices are obviously here to stay (at least until successor technologies become embedded in our clothing or implanted in our bodies).
It's perhaps a bit strange, then, that solutions for helping System i enterprises maintain wireless communications between customers, employees, and back-office systems seemingly remains mired in the 20th century, at least with regards to the number of available third-party products. A survey of wireless application deployment solutions for the System i came up with only a relative handful, listed below.
DIY Wireless Communications
Some of this scarcity is due to the ability of larger companies to devote development resources to building custom solutions that let employees in the field directly access server applications from handheld communicators. Particularly for System i machines that run Java, Sun Microsystems provides a wealth of information for building programs to handle wireless communications based on its Sun Java Wireless Toolkit for CLDC. But for SMBs that are short on programmers to throw at the problem or haven't had a need to adopt Java yet, taking full advantage of wireless mobility may still simply be on the wish list.
Not helping is that deploying applications to wireless devices touches on many more issues than simply building a functional application. Wireless devices have a smaller display area and need custom adjustment so UIs are large enough to be legible and easily navigable by users. Some parts of an application may need to reside on the mobile device, so synchronization of changes to apps and data between devices and the home server are an ongoing problem.
Processing on a handheld is usually slower than on the server, in addition to which network bandwidth considerations will affect application response. Inputs from handhelds are more limited, so adaptations for that can be necessary. Messages and other communications between device and server must be secure and use a consistent architecture. The small size of handheld devices makes their loss more likely, so access to systems via unauthorized users of handhelds increases and must be compensated for.
Finally, the hardware itself for a handheld is likely to be upgraded more often than the standard business desktop, so IT must be on top of any software changes those upgrades may require and may possibly have to support a variety of different devices.
Using a Third-Party Solution
None of these issues can be ignored safely, and in this article we have space to merely mention most of the important ones.
For SMBs, a more realistic alternative is to turn to a third-party solution that already takes many of these elements into consideration. In the System i market, these solutions fall into two basic groups. The first are products that facilitate communications between devices and servers. The second are interactive development environments and deployment tools that generate versions of System i applications that can run on specific mobile devices.
Obviously, the solution type that best meets your needs will depend on the resources and infrastructure at your enterprise’s disposal. Please note that most examples of the first type of product require either Java or IBM Lotus Notes/Domino to be running on the System i server to operate.
Please note that the brief summaries here don't cover all the features each software product provides. You should consult the links provided for each product and contact the associated vendors for a more complete idea of what each product's capabilities include.
And as always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.
Solutions That Facilitate Device-to-Server App Communications
Research in Motion
The BlackBerry Enterprise Server for IBM Lotus Domino provides encrypted communications between BlackBerry mobile devices and servers running Domino, such as the System i. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server supports several optional components. The BlackBerry Collaboration Service integrates with supported third-party instant messaging. The BlackBerry MDS Integration Service supports custom application development and distribution. The BlackBerry Administration Service, a Web application, lets authorized personnel manage the enterprise server, BlackBerry devices, and user accounts.
Compatible with Lotus Domino environments, including the System i, Funambol Community Edition is open-source software that lets developers synchronize data between mobile devices and back-end data sources. The suite includes a software development kit, an email connector, administration tools, mobile devices, and documentation. The data-synchronization part of the product runs on Linux or Windows.
Stay-Linked is a terminal-emulation solution that supports 5250 emulation between System i servers and mobile devices. The platform includes three components installed on the host, wireless devices, and a Windows PC acting as an administration console. The solution transmits keystrokes, scans, and speech-to-text from mobile devices and lets mobile devices access server applications.
Advanced BusinessLink (ABL)
Strategi mobileACCESS lets mobile devices become System i clients, enabling access to server apps from WiFi and WAN connections. Features include dynamic panning through application screens, intelligent screen compaction, hotspot navigation, iconic replacements for function keys, and host-based installation and administration of apps.
Solutions That Generate Mobile Versions of System i Apps
The Antenna Mobility Platform facilitates incorporation of mobile technology into an enterprise's infrastructure and strategy. The suite includes application integration tools, a gateway with built-in services, a management center, and a Java-based IDE for building original applications. The platform is Java-based and compatible with the Eclipse IDE for Java Developers V3.3.2 and the Java 2 Platform Standard Edition (J2SE) V2.0.
LANSA Composer is a tool for integrating business activities that involve data transport. It lets users move data from one place to another, transform the data from one format to another (e.g., server and wireless device displays), and orchestrate processes. Its wizard-based Web services tools let users consume Web services, expose LANSA or 3GL code as a Web service, and integrate application transactions via eXtensible Markup Language (XML) and more than 30 Java plug-in services.
LANSA Integrator blends application-to-application and business-to-business services via XML and Java plug-ins. It enables data exchanges between a server and wireless devices, lets users publish or access third-party Web services via the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and sends and receives XML transactions between business partners.
Visual LANSA is a Windows development environment that lets developers build applications that are portable to System i, wireless devices, and other platforms—all from a single code base. The Visual LANSA Framework enables programmers to prototype and create graphical Windows and Web applications with a consistent look and behavior, use platform-portable business rules and database triggers, and deploy the result as rich-client single- or multi-tier applications.
LegacyWeb automatically rewrites existing RPG, ILE RPG, and COBOL applications in HTML, enabling those apps to run in a browser environment. LegacyWeb can also generate XML that provides a gateway between legacy applications and wireless applications.
Seagull Software, a Rocket Software brand
LegaSuite enables developers to add GUIs to host applications that are then available via browser from other platforms and wireless devices. Developers can also enhance applications at the GUI level, such as improving workflow, changing application navigation, introducing productivity widgets, and collapsing multiple screens to a single view.
Advanced BusinessLink (ABL)
Pocket Strategi is a development tool that lets programmers build wireless applications or extend System i server applications to wireless environments. Developed applications can function without a wireless signal, enable messaging between host and devices in near real time, and provide media-rich interfaces. To aid in disaster recovery scenarios, developed apps can optionally offer automatic transaction and application replication that eliminates requirements for redundant devices.
Business Computer Design International (BCD)
Both WebSmart products generate Web applications via templates included with the product. The ILE version generates the users’ choice of RPG or COBOL code, while the PHP version generates applications in Zend Corporation’s PHP language. Generated applications are accessible by any browser, including those running on mobile devices. Procedures within both products let developers tailor application displays for dedicated use on mobile devices or develop Web apps that can display a different interface, depending on what type of device is being used to access them.